Time Out says
This take on the story of Jesse Owens runs out of steam long before the finish line
The inspiring story of Jesse Owens, the runner whose four gold-medal wins at Berlin’s 1936 Olympics infuriated the Nazi regime, has been turned into this flat-footed sports drama. As Owens, actor Stephan James is convincingly athletic but has little to do in the early stretches apart from being resilient and mild. He’s never given the chance to rail (even privately) against the racism Owens encountered at Ohio State University.
‘Race’ ladles on the locker-room hate speech, so it feels like a serious movie. But director Stephen Hopkins mines virtually no tension from the relationship between Owens and his white trainer, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis, distracting and smarmy), who insists that his young talent ‘work to win’.
By the time we get to Berlin’s massive arena – re-created in a ‘Gladiator’-like swirl of roaring digital crowds – ‘Race’ knows it has an ace up its sleeve. The sporting events can’t help but be thrilling, even if they’re over too soon. Yet certain ironies are softened for the most tender audience members: Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten) gets a glowing makeover as a defiant truth-teller, while Hitler’s infamous snub of Owens is presented as fact, when the real Owens is said to have carried around a photo of the two of them shaking hands until his death in 1980. Why not include that controversial detail? ‘Race’ is the most timid, lackadaisical movie that could have been made out of potentially classic material.
Cast and crew
Carice van Houten